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More compost talk

  • Subject: [cg] More compost talk
  • From: Don Boekelheide <dboekelheide@yahoo.com>
  • Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2004 11:12:40 -0800 (PST)

Hi, all,

I agree with you, Dorene, about keeping composting
simple - to a point. Teaching composting locally, I
find that people _like_ to get a hot pile, and in my
opinion, it is best to teach them how to succeed with
a hot pile using a simple straightforward technique
and 'recipe'. These folks are, of course,
self-selecting people who decide to come to a
composting class on Saturday morning. However, I also
find this is true in schools, where kids love to see
the steam rising and feel the heat. That opens doors
to all kinds of lessons on microbes, soils, ecology,
waste reduction...

In one sense, Monica is right. Composting is a human
process, not a 'natural' one. We intervene to create
optimal conditions for the type of decomposition
ecology and end product we want (some methods, at
opposite philosophical ends of the compost spectrum,
require specific materials, from genetically
engineered enzymes to homeopathic extracts stirred
counterclockwise by moonlight). The relationship
between 'natural' decomposition and composting is
roughly similar to the relationship between spoiled
sour milk and yogurt. They are alike, but not
necessarily both appropriate for the same human
purposes. Yogurt works a lot better in a smoothie.

Even when you just 'let it rot', you are intervening
in the process. And, as Stu Campbell agrees in his
excellent little book, you'd better intervene at least
a bit - for instance, I'd keep bermudagrass rhizomes
strictly out of any compost headed for my garden, and
I'd be wary these days of picking up herbicide treated
grass clippings.

With food scraps, just tossing them in a heap is fine,
if you (and the neighbors and the city) don't mind
odor, flies and a pretty mess when the dogs or possums
or rats get into it.

So, you are absolutely right in not wanting to turn
people off by making composting sound intimidating,
and it is certainly counterproductive to be critical
of people trying to compost as best they can (that
works on the other side, too - Elaine Ingham is no
ivory tower academic, she's a soil ecologist who hopes
that her insights and research will have real impact
in the real world). Personally, I think community
gardens are a great place to model good composting
techniques a step above simply piling debris in a
corner of the lot. The 'ol heap is better than
nothing, but there's a better way.

Don Boekelheide
Charlotte, NC

Dorene wrote:

>Connie forwarded from Monica:

>What you are doing is not composting; you are rotting
your materials, 
>which natures does on its own.

Oh, please.  This is the type of attitude that
intimidates people into 
composting.  "Hot composting" is one technique among

Composting is nothing to stress about.  While Elaine
Ingraham (sp) and 
<http://www.soilfoodweb.com>www.soilfoodweb.com are
and if one wants to do the work, is completely worth
the time, if your 
is working for you and you don't have problems, IT'S
OKAY!  And the 
vermicomposting people will tell you that if you have
active worms in 
pile, all sorts of good things will happen that are
different than the 
things that happen during hot composting. There are
pros and cons to 
technique.  Do what works best for you and your

The first book I read on composting still remains the
best (in print 

Let It Rot: The Gardener's Guide to Composting
(Storey's Down-To-Earth 
Guides) by Stu Campbell, ISBN: 1580170234

The title says it all!

Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street,
Phoenixville, PA  

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